Study Reveals Stream Restoration Trade-offs: Higher Environmental Benefits to be Had Where Homeowners are Less Willing to Pay

UMD study shows urban homeowners are more willing to pay to restore streams than exurbanites, despite lower environmental benefits for improved water quality.

Restored streams help reduce nutrients from reaching downstream waters and the Chesapeake Bay. The grassy, open banks of the restored stream above allow lots of sunlight to reach slow-moving headwaters, which helps to absorb and reduce nitrogen loads.

Image Credit: Tom Doody

May 2, 2022

Although stream restoration filters pollutants out of local waterways and improves the health of the Chesapeake Bay, Baltimore area neighborhoods where it would do the most for water quality are far less willing to pay for such projects, according to a new study by a University of Maryland environmental economist and an interdisciplinary team of colleagues.

The team found that homeowners in the least densely populated, and generally wealthier areas of their study region, were less willing to pay to restore streams, while those in the most densely populated areas, which tended to have lower incomes, were more willing to pay for restoration projects.

The study, which appeared in the journal Environmental Research Letters, should help inform decision makers charged with improving water quality, who often must balance community support with environmental impacts.

“We see this strong urban-to-rural gradient where in urban areas there's a higher economic potential as far as community support to pay for stream restoration, but less ecological potential to reduce nutrient pollution, and vice versa,” said David Newburn, an associate professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at UMD and co-author of the study. “The overall trend is that there's often a trade-off for environmental and economic benefits from stream restoration projects, and it’s hard to find the win-win locations.”

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